Ori and the Blind Forest is not simply a video game, but a work of art. From the introductory sequence to the level design, even the water colour art style, Ori and the Blind Forest is beautiful. No other game this year has been able to tug on your heart strings as strongly as this game. Right off the bat you nurture the fragile Ori as the large mother-bear figure – Naru. What takes place is a montage of sorts reminiscent of the opening sequence of a Disney movie as Ori and Naru form their short relationship by building bridges over rushing creeks, climbing trees to gather fruit, and frolicking home. As the forest tragically deteriorates around you, Naru and Ori fight for life by eating their fruit in a cave, all the while you control these dying figures. It’s a simple, tragic and beautiful sequence that gives meaning to your quest when Ori’s light awakens and you are quested to restore the light to the Spirit Tree and save the rest of the forest.
You are now allowed to explore the map in a Metroidvania style with backtracking encouraged when new abilities have been unlocked. Ori begins his quest as a nimble, fragile mouse-like creature with little health and no abilities. This soon changes as you collect light orbs from the enemies you defeat and spend them on unlocking Ori’s abilities. Though the idea makes sense on paper, I found myself often grinding through the game to grab the various light orbs. It’s not just abilities you spend these orbs on but you’ll need orbs to create a ‘Soul Link’ to access the ability tree and save your game.
If you’re looking for a rich narrative, you’ve come to the wrong game. But hey, it’s a platformer. The story doesn’t move much past what was set up in the beginning of the game. Ori must save the forest, Ori saves the forest. To be honest, the familiarity of the story isn’t an issue. The touching moments add some depth to the game and then you are free to move at your own pace through the expansive multi-layered map. Gameplay wise, Ori’s controls are tight and precise with its jump mechanic sometimes being too precise. Often I found ledges that were just reachable at the peak of Ori’s jump, which meant that you’d have to get to the ledge at the right angle. Not a massive hiccup, but it did disturb the flow of the game from time to time. Especially when Ori becomes lightening quick. Other than that, Ori’s pace allows a steady flow through the landscape.
The game gradually becomes harder, naturally, with a steep incline as soon as more abilities start unlocking. The end sequence to the levels drastically boosts the difficulty with one minor slip of your movement chain resulting in death. One sequence that springs to mind is Ori frantically leaping from platform to platform, jumping and dodging enemies and obstacles as a large tree floods with water. One small slip and you’re done. And since the game doesn’t auto save as regular as other modern platformers, you might find yourself spawning back at the start of the level. Until you get your sequence down pat, you’ll probably find yourself furiously mashing buttons after every slip Ori takes. Just remember to save your game with those all-valuable light orbs.
While the difficulty builds, the game still feels manageable with Ori’s growing roster of abilities. With ever misjudged jump or unforeseeable slip in your movement it never feels like the game is punishing you. It’s your fault that you thought you could jump that large gap of sharp spikes without unlocking double jump first. And it’s your fault when you don’t realise a group of poison shooting slugs are spitting on your platform and you foolishly jump into more spikes. When you overcome a challenge or finally figure out how to get to your desired point, the game feels rewarding.
Ori’s art style reflects that of a Studio Ghibli animation with an oil pastel pallet painting the storybook landscape. Deep blues and purples vibrate off the screen with Ori’s glowing outline dancing from platform to platform like a carefully choreographed animation. Ominous silhouettes move in the foreground of the screen like a puppet show – hinting to an upcoming threat. This is easily the most stylish game of 2015.
What I like most about Ori and the Blind Forest is how deceiving the game is. To any passer-by the game looks like a child’s TV show, but hidden within the charming and beautiful art style is a tough, highly sophisticated platformer. It’s frustrating at times, just like the old platformers, which gives it further style in my opinion, but every challenge feels as if it could be beaten. With a heart stopping, throat-choking introduction, smart level design and tight mechanics, Ori and the Blind Forest is a quality platformer that even old-school veterans will get a kick out of.